How a Simple Nod Can Make Business Communication Better

Man intently listening to his two colleagues during a meeting

We spend a lot of time helping people succeed as trainers, meeting facilitators, and presenters. That work focuses on helping people initiate and manage the conversation that takes place in each of these settings. What we rarely focus on is the role of the people receiving the training, participating in the meeting, or listening to the presentation.

That’s why I found a story on NPR’s “My Unsung Hero” series so interesting. This story was about Alexandra Middlewood, a professor at Wichita State University. During the pandemic, she endured the challenges of teaching in a hybrid format—some students face-to-face and others on Zoom. One day, as she was delivering a lecture, wearing her mask, she noticed one of her students was nodding as she spoke. As she described it, he was nodding “emphatically in a way, at least it seemed to me, that what I was trying to teach was resonating with him.”

Middlewood went on to say that because of that one student, she “felt really invigorated. It was the most excited I had been to be there, in a classroom, for a really long time.”

Business communication is a two-way interaction, even when you’re not speaking

In many ways, that nodding student was the result of the hard work Middlewood put into preparing her lecture, delivering in a way that would resonate with her students, and doing her best to engage them despite the obvious obstacles. In another way, that student was doing his part to keep the conversation going. He was responding, giving something back to the instructor, who was doing her best to connect with him.

In Middlewood’s situation, the responsive student certainly made her feel better. I’d argue that his simple act of nodding also made her lecture better. It no doubt improved her enthusiasm, her level of engagement, and her desire to make what she was saying as relevant and accessible for her students as possible.

Appearances matter in meetings

So, the next time you’re in a meeting, presentation, or training session, think about what you’re giving back to the person in charge. If you want to be remembered, appear engaged and seem to care; do what it takes to appear to be a good listener. Beyond nodding, here are a few suggestions about how to do that.

In face-to-face settings:

  • Return the eye contact the speaker is giving you. Do your part to make a connection and hold up your side of the conversation.
  • Sit up and stay focused on what’s being said. Which, of course, requires putting your phone away.

In virtual settings:

  • Turn your camera on. There may be times when it’s not possible, I know, but to appear present, you need to be seen.
  • Position and light yourself appropriately.
  • Look into the camera when you’re not being asked to look at a slide or handout. Doing so will do a lot to break down the barriers of virtual communication.

Finally, it’s easy to assume that a successful meeting is the facilitator’s responsibility. Success also requires meeting participants who are willing to do their part. We’ve created an infographic focusing on the responsibilities of meeting facilitators and participants. Click here to download.

Our methodology is based on our book, The Orderly Conversation®, a groundbreaking resource that offers a proven, practical approach for developing and delivering presentations that moves business forward.


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